Salad Dressing

What Nora Ephron Taught Me About Vinaigrette (& a Really Good Recipe)

February 17, 2016

If I spent any time doing anything in the kitchen last year, it was mainly assembling some kind of sad meal. The most elaborate things I put together were salads, if you could even call them that.

Piles of leaves, slices of produce, a squeeze of lemon and a glug of oil thrown together, not mixed at all. The results were as sloppy as they sound: Some bites were all lemon, some had no dressing at all, and a lot of leaves were wilted and drowning in oil. 

Photo by Kristy Mucci

One day in September, I had kind of an epiphany, thanks to Nora Ephron. I'd just moved into my new apartment and was feeling especially sad, and reached for a book to make myself feel better. I picked up Heartburn because it's one of the books I've been relying on for moments like this.

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If you haven't read it, here's a very brief synopsis: The main character is a food person going through a divorce. She shares recipes throughout the book, but she mentions her vinaigrette a lot. Apparently this stuff is amazing, and she will not share the recipe with her ex. Good luck to him, he'll never find anyone with as good a vinaigrette up her sleeve.

More: Learning to cook again, starting with soft scrambled eggs.

Eventually, she shares the recipe (sorry if I spoiled it, but you really should have read this book at some point in the last thirty-ish years), and that part sent a jolt through me: Vinaigrette is really a big deal, and I make a really good one. What have I been doing with these depressing salads all year?

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Top Comment:
“Just remember all the good that the past has brought because, really, there's beauty in everything and anything. Can't wait for the rest of this series :) cheers ”
— Mic

I used to love putting time into making a salad: carefully washing and drying the leaves, making a proper vinaigrette, using my hands to make sure the leaves were all evenly dressed—that's a lovely time, and I'd been depriving myself of all that enjoyment. Thanks to Nora Ephron, I felt inspired to get back to my old ways.

Photo by Kristy Mucci

That surge of inspiration didn't last long. I'm ashamed to admit this, but I didn't start putting effort into my salads until a few weeks ago. Shortly after my epiphany, I fell right back into my sadness and the thought of making anything felt more exhausting than exciting, so my salads didn't improve.

But now, I'm more determined to not let those sad days get the better of me. I'm forcing myself to do more in the kitchen, despite how daunting it feels sometimes.

Most days, I make myself some kind of salad for lunch. It's still mainly an assembly job, and not really cooking, but I'm enjoying the process more. I'm finally making proper dressings again, and it feels like a huge feat.

Here's the recipe that inspired me to get back to making proper salad dressings: 

Mix 2 tablespoons Grey Poupon mustard with 2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar. Then, whisking constantly with a fork,slowly add 6 tablespoons olive oil until the vinaigrette is thick and creamy

And here are the improvements I think can be made to it

  • First, Grey Poupon is fine, but it has sugar and fruit pectin added to it, and I don't know what that's about, so I use mustard that doesn't include them.
  • I think shallots that have been minced so that they're perfectly even make all vinaigrettes better.
  • I'm really into that Noble Tonic No. 4 right now, so that's what I'm using instead of red wine vinegar.
  • Sometimes I add anchovies, because they're the best.
  • And finally, whisking by hand is great, but I prefer using a mason jar because it's easier: less cleanup and easy storage for whatever's extra. 

I'm working on keeping a jar of dressing in my fridge at all times. Knowing it's there provides a small sense of security. I know I'm not done with my sad days yet, but at least I'm done with those sad salads.

I always feel better when there's a jar of __________ in my refrigerator. Fill in the blank in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Timmy Gabito
    Timmy Gabito
  • Mic
  • deby
  • NotTooSweet
  • sheila malmberg
    sheila malmberg
I'm a freelance food and prop stylist, writer/editor, and video producer.


Timmy G. February 29, 2016
I needed to read this esp at this time in my life where im too tired to do anything in the kitchen. ☺️ Thank you for the book. Will read on this too. Hope to read more recipes coupled with pretty photos from you ??
Mic February 22, 2016
Hi kristy! I learned about you through Michael as I am a big fan of his, and now I am a fan of yours too. Your writing is so comforting and easy to read, yet still refined. Thank you for making cooking sound beyond mundane. It just amplifies my love for food and life in general, even. You can get through this difficult time, for sure. Just remember all the good that the past has brought because, really, there's beauty in everything and anything. Can't wait for the rest of this series :) cheers
deby February 21, 2016
the mustard, the olive oil... switch lemon juice for vinegar, add loads black pepper, grainy sea salt and lots of lemon zest! gets better over several days and is great on roast beets, brussel sprouts, shripe or scallop stir fry as well as salads.
Kristy M. February 21, 2016
NotTooSweet February 21, 2016
I SO needed this exact article at this exact point in my life. My husband and I eat a salad every day and we have been so lazy about dressings. Needless to say, we are extremely bored with our lettuce ritual and I'm excited to get a great vinaigrette into the frig right now! Thanks so much for the nudge - now it's time to get some shallots minced and get whisking.
Kristy M. February 21, 2016
So happy the timing was perfect for you!
sheila M. February 21, 2016
I always feel better when I have a jar of Lynne Rosseto Casper's Basic Vinagrette in the fridge. You can use it as a basic dressing OR use it to make about 10 different dressings from her book "The Spendid Table's How to Eat Supper". Each recipe only uses a small portion of the original recipe, so if you have it on hand, Voila!,.....fresh salad dressing to die for :)
We love the honey mustard, ranch, and many more
Carol S. February 21, 2016
A jar of chia pudding would be nice.
As for vinaigrette, my secret weapon is using a medium- coarse cheese grater for the shallot, creating a thickening paste of flavor. I skip the mustard altogether.
Kristy M. February 21, 2016
Jeffro February 19, 2016
Pickles. Cucumber, carrot, jalapeno, chili wetitoes, you name it, I got it.
witloof February 18, 2016
Who needs a jar? You can whisk the dressing in the bottom of the salad bowl, add the salad ingredients, and toss.
Lorin K. February 19, 2016
A jar is useful if you're making extra. Also, I'm not sure that I would want to run a whisk over the surface of my wood salad bowl.
Greenstuff February 21, 2016
There's a greater connection to the process when you whisk in the salad bowl, and you can scoop some out if you want to save it. Decades of whisking in my salad bowls haven't hurt them, so give it a try! It's by far my preferred technique.
Scribbles February 23, 2016
I agree with mixing in the salad bowl and using a whisk in a wooden bowl - both work just fine! And, I, personally like fresh dressing every day. It takes no time to whip it up.
Sean R. February 18, 2016
I always feel better when there's a jar of garlic aioli in my refrigerator.
The boyfriend roasted veggies today and it was glorious to have a garlicky dip handy.
Ty G. February 18, 2016
I moved back to Washington DC in the late 70's and met Nora when I worked at a local kitchen supply store. I had the biggest crush on her, because she was cool and restaurant was and still is one my favorite in DC. I always have a tub of duck fat, and a variety of oils and vinegars in my pantry for making vinaigrettes.
Kristy M. February 18, 2016
I'm kind of fangirl-ing over this comment right now. She seemed like the coolest.
Susan T. February 21, 2016
Hope you aren't referring to Restaurant Nora, Ty. That is the restaurant started by Nora Pouillon, not Nora Ephron. Buth wonderfully cool ladies, though.
susan F. February 21, 2016
I was just going to say that Nora Pouillon created Nora. I miss Nora Ephron too. She knew food!!!
Lorin K. February 17, 2016
Thanks for the lovely piece! Creme fraiche in the fridge makes me happy. And there's duck fat...
Kristy M. February 18, 2016
Thank you, Lorin! Duck fat for the win!
Lorin K. February 18, 2016
Yes! Duck fat potatoes check all the boxes, don't they? Easy, delicious, haute, comfort food...
mcs3000 February 17, 2016
Such a gift to read your work, Kristy. Bonus points for anything w/ Nora.
Kristy M. February 18, 2016
Thank you so much. And what would we do without Nora? Forever grateful for all of her work.
Joan February 17, 2016
Always feel better when there's a jar of roasted garlic in my fridge
Kristy M. February 18, 2016
Almila K. February 17, 2016
Kristy, your talent and authenticity never ceases to comfort and impress me. Thank you for your honesty and your beautiful work. I cannot wait to make this with the shallot + anchovies tomorrow.
Kristy M. February 18, 2016
Thank you so much, Almila! I hope your salad is lovely today. xo
Kristen M. February 17, 2016
That zen in mincing shallots perfectly, and scraping bowls completely clean, and doing every last dish in the sink, maybe while singing to Sam Cooke. Thank you for the reminder to read for comfort, as much as cook.
Kristy M. February 18, 2016
Doing the dishes, especially. xo
Holly February 17, 2016
Thank you for so artfully describing the reality of "sad days", which (thankfully!) many people don't entirely comprehend. I will make your dressing on a better day, and send vast volumes of good thoughts in your direction.
Kristy M. February 17, 2016
Thank you for the kind words, Holly. It's so helpful to not feel alone during the sad times. I'll send good thoughts your way next time I make the dressing, too.